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A Scott-Haunted World

  • Timothy C. Baker
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Part of the The Palgrave Gothic Series book series (PAGO)

Abstract

In a recent survey of contemporary criticism on Scottish Gothic, Monica Germanà argues that the Gothic tradition is characterised in part by an emphasis on ‘the viability of stable origins’ that leads to an exploration of ‘the fear of not knowing what one is’.1 Gothic, at its most basic level, explores questions not only of history and tradition, but also of how the apparent instability of historical origins casts doubt on the stability of the self. Within Scottish Gothic, these issues are often framed in terms of canonicity and influence; critics have gone so far as to term literary tradition the ‘Scottish curse’, whereby the ‘Scottishness’ of a given work can only be determined by its reference to an already accepted national canon.2 The relationship between tradition, selfhood, and authorship is rarely more apparent than in the many explicit reworkings of novels by Walter Scott, James Hogg, and Robert Louis Stevenson produced over the past decades. Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, for instance, has been rewritten or adapted at least half a dozen times, by authors including Muriel Spark, Emma Tennant, Robin Jenkins, and most recently James Robertson. This conscious appropriation and revision of a literary tradition invites a consideration of Gothic as a form that both upholds and distorts literary tradition.

Keywords

Literary Tradition Binary Logic Contemporary Criticism Oral Testimony Narrative Voice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Monica Germanà (2011) ‘The Sick Body and the Fractured Self: (Contemporary) Scottish Gothic’, Gothic Studies, 13.2, 1–8, p. 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Camille Manfredi (2009) ‘Aesthetic Encounter, Literary Point-Scoring, or Theft? Intertextuality in the Work of Alasdair Gray’, in Claude Maisonnat, Josiane Paccaud-Huguet and Annie Ramel (eds), Rewriting/Reprising in Literature: The Paradoxes of Intertexuality (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars), pp. 26–34, p. 30.Google Scholar
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    Fiona Robertson (1994) Legitimate Histories: Scott, Gothic, and the Authorities of Fiction (Oxford: Clarendon), p. 86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ann Rigney (2012) The Afterlives of Walter Scott: Memory on the Move (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ian Duncan (2007) Scott’s Shadow: The Novel in Romantic Edinburgh (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 8, 29.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Scott’s continuing presence is addressed in Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still, where in setting up a new housing scheme in south Edinburgh, ‘[t]he Corporation had decreed, apparently believing in the power of historical romance to ennoble ordinary lives, that all the streets in the scheme be named after characters from Walter Scott’s novels: Redgauntlet Terrace, Ravenswood Avenue, Balderstone Gardens, and so forth’. James Robertson (2010) And the Land Lay Still (London: Penguin), p. 271. Needless to say, ordinary lives are not ennobled.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Virginia Woolf (1992) To the Lighthouse (London: Vintage), p. 109. Scott’s novels are used to differentiate between various male figures; while Mr Ramsay finds an introspective value, as well as diversion, in reading The Antiquary, and Mr Bankes reads one of the Waverley Novels every six months, Charles Tansley’s criticism of Scott amounts to saying ‘“I — I — I”’ (98).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Rigney, Afterlives, p. 10 for a full discussion. An explicit connection between To the Lighthouse and Scott is implied in Hermione Lee’s biography of Woolf, where she notes Woolf’s youthful enthusiasm for Scott’s ‘“diary of a voyage to the lighthouses on the Scotch coast”’. Hermione Lee (1997) Virginia Woolf (London: Vintage), p. 142.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Virginia Woolf (1966–1967) Collected Essays, 4 vols (London: Hogarth), vol. 1, p. 139.Google Scholar
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  11. 11.
    Leslie Fiedler highlights this temporality in his argument for Scott’s works as essentially ‘clean’ and ‘pure’: ‘Opening Scott’s last volume, one could look forward to communing with a “healthy” soul engaged in an examination of the historic past which had helped determine contemporary society, and finding in it heroic and eccentric types able to make one glad to be alive’. Leslie A. Fiedler (1997) Love and Death in the American Novel (Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive), p. 170. While Fiedler’s reading of Scott is arguably simplistic, his work demonstrates the importance of Scott’s intertwining of past and present.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Scott does, of course, employ Gothic themes and motifs throughout his work, both comprehensively in novels such as The Bride of Lammermoor and with greater precision in, for instance, The Antiquary. Oldbuck’s library is described in the opening pages, for instance, in simultaneous relation to history and the apparently supernatural: ‘In the midst of this wreck of ancient books and utensils, with a gravity equal to Marius among the ruins of Carthage sat a large black cat, which, to a superstitious eye, might have presented the genius loci, or tutelary dæmon of the apartment’. Walter Scott (1995) The Antiquary, ed. David Hewitt, Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), p. 22. The mélange of references here indicates both the pervasiveness of Gothic tropes in Scott’s work and, perhaps, the lack of seriousness with which they should be taken.Google Scholar
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    See Robertson, Legitimate Histories, p. 81 and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1986) The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (New York and London: Methuen), p. 14.Google Scholar
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    Scott appears in non-Scottish Gothic as well, of course; he is alluded to, for instance, in Isak Dinesen’s story ‘The Deluge at Norderney’. Isak Dinesen (1979) Seven Gothic Tales (St Albans: Triad/Panther), p. 178.Google Scholar
  15. A peculiar reductio ad absurdum of Scott’s influence can be found in Victoria Nelson’s argument that the Gothic developed in America with a lesser focus on the supernatural than in Europe because of the lack of an American Scott. Victoria Nelson (2001) The Secret Life of Puppets (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), p. 80.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    The ghost of Scott appears more literally in Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Cyprian Overbeck Wells: A Literary Mosaic’ where, alongside Defoe, Smollett, Eliot, Thackeray, Stevenson, and others, he gives advice to a struggling young writer, boasting of his love for ‘“the true mediæval smack”’. Arthur Conan Doyle (1922) Tales of Twilight and the Unseen (London: John Murray), p. 135.Google Scholar
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    Ian Duncan makes a similar point in relation to Redgauntlet, where he argues that ‘Lockhart’s authentication of an autobiographical presence in Redgauntlet gives body to the phantom of an original presence guaranteed by the veil of anonymity’. Ian Duncan (2003) ‘Authenticity Effects: The Work of Fiction in Romantic Scotland’, South Atlantic Quarterly, 102.1, 93–115, p. 108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    A similar figure, Somnambulus, appears as the signatory to three of Scott’s political articles for the Edinburgh Weekly Journal in 1819, collected as The Visionary. As Terry Castle notes, the term ‘phantasmagoria’ itself changes meaning almost precisely at the time of the publication of Scott’s story, moving from ‘an initial connection with something external and public […] to something wholly internal and subjective’. Terry Castle (1995) The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 141. Although Castle does not mention Scott’s story, the publication of a Blackwood’s piece entitled ‘Phantasmagoriana’ three months later is, as she notes, suggestive of the general trend in Blackwood’s and similar magazines ‘to name literary works of a miscellaneous or feuilletonistic nature […] after the machinery of the spectre show’ (Castle, Female Thermometer, p. 241).Google Scholar
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    Walter Scott (2009) The Shorter Fiction, ed. Graham Tulloch and Judy King, Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, vol. 24 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), p. 38.Google Scholar
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    See Suzanne Gilbert’s argument for the relationship between oral tradition, individual narrative, and the material body as the key to understanding Confessions. Suzanne Gilbert (2009) ‘James Hogg and the Authority of Tradition’, in Sharon Alker and Holly Faith Nelson (eds), James Hogg and the Literary Marketplace: Scottish Romanticism and the Working-Class Author (Farnham: Ashgate), pp. 93–109.Google Scholar
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    Robertson wrote his PhD on Scott, arguing that ‘Scott seemed to me to be the key to some kind of understanding of why Scottish History was perceived in the way that it is’. Isobel Murray (2008) Scottish Writers Talking 4 (Glasgow: Kennedy & Boyd), p. 133. Not surprisingly, Scott is mentioned in each of Robertson’s first four novels (each concerned in different ways with the problem of history) as well as many of his other writings. As a review of And the Land Lay Still begins: ‘Not for the first time, we have Walter Scott to thank, or perhaps to blame’. Ian Bell (2010) ‘Is This a Novel I See Before Me? James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still’, Scottish Review of Books, 6.3, http://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org, date accessed 9 July 2012.Google Scholar
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    James Robertson (2003) Scottish Ghost Stories (London: Time Warner), p. xiv.Google Scholar
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    As Duncan argues, throughout Scott’s writing ‘a “fiction”, or thing which is not […] is continually called into question’. Ian Duncan (1992) Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel: The Gothic, Scott, Dickens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Maurice Blanchot (2003) The Book to Come, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press), p. 201.Google Scholar
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  32. 35.
    James Robertson (2001) The Fanatic (London: Fourth Estate), pp. 9, 11.Google Scholar
  33. 36.
    Compounding the interrelations between Robertson’s writings, the Fanatic seemingly builds on events in the title story of Robertson’s first collection, Close, which also concerns ‘a man paid to masquerade as the dead’. James Robertson (1991) Close and Other Stories (Edinburgh: Black & White), pp. 37–38.Google Scholar
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    Judith Wilt (1980) Ghosts of the Gothic: Austen, Eliot, and Lawrence (Princeton: Princeton University Press), p. 69. The term ‘decreation’ is originally used inGoogle Scholar
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    Avery F. Gordon (2008) Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, new ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), p. 7.Google Scholar
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    As Emily Horton summarises contemporary discussions of the spectral, including Gordon’s work, ‘while Gothic motifs have always offered a means of exploring traumatic and abject experiences, particularly in relation to marginalised identities, in this case these experiences have become indicative of social life […] such that the twenty-first century spectre carries a stark ideological resonance’. Emily Horton (2013) ‘A Voice without a Name: Gothic Homelessness in Ali Smith’s Hotel World and Trezza Azzopardi’s Remember Me’, in Siân Adiseshiah and Rupert Hildyard (eds), Twenty-First Century Fiction: What Happens Now (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 132–146, p. 133.Google Scholar
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    Scott occupies a similar textual position in Robertson’s second novel, Joseph Knight, where he is discussed on the third page. James Robertson (2004) Joseph Knight (London: Fourth Estate), p. 5.Google Scholar
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    James Robertson (2006) The Testament of Gideon Mack (London: Penguin), p. 341.Google Scholar
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    See Robert Morace, who argues that while the allusions are an ‘extravagance’ that ‘underscore the novel’s jokey side’, they also must be seen in the context of ‘a more sceptical age for which intertextuality may be the new supernatural (or poor cousin): a Gothic incapable of signifying anything but itself’. Robert Morace, (2011) ‘James Robertson and Contemporary Scottish Gothic’, Gothic Studies, 13.2, 22–36, pp. 30, 32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Walter Scott (1993) The Tale of Old Mortality, ed. Douglas Mack, Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, vol. 4b (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), pp. 336–367.Google Scholar
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    In Robertson’s story titled ‘Old Mortality’, the pattern is reversed. The protagonists meet an old man in a graveyard when they go to look at their ancestral graves; rather than repairing the gravestones, as they originally believe, the man removes names and dates with a chisel in an attempt to bring about oblivion. James Robertson (2012) Republics of the Mind: New and Selected Stories (Edinburgh: Black & White), pp. 234–237. In Katherine Anne Porter’s story of the same name, from 1939, Scott himself is erased; while the two young protagonists’ preference for ‘the floating ends of narrative’ over ‘visible remains’ in trying to understand their ancestors is certainly themati-cally relevant, the title phrase is simply an example of ‘tombstone poetry’ that ‘should be better’.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Timothy C. Baker 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy C. Baker
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AberdeenUK

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